Don’t Be Offended If I Say I Hope You’ll Take Offense

By Jack Canfora

For years – nay, decades- we could count on the more conservative elements of society to take offense to all manner of things besetting our culture and ruining our way of life: from women having the vote to the automobile to the Charleston to Elvis to long haired louts from Liverpool to reefer madness to integration to the public acknowledgement of sex to bad language on television to LGBTQ+ rights, we could count on some faction of the more staid members of the community clutching their pearls over something (even the cliche “pearl clutching” brings to mind Margaret Dumont rather than, say, Janis Joplin). And while once in a great while they had a not entirely ludicrous point to make, as a rule they were in the moment absurd and through the lens of history, either embarrassingly wrong or laughably out of touch. And that was their thing. They were good at it.

But those days are gone. Oh sure, those people still exist, but now up is down, north is south, and shame is now whatever the opposite of shame is. I forget offhand; maybe it’ll come to me later. Because the conservatives now have some real competition for the puritanical laurels they have worn forever (among those of their number who are into wearing laurels). Factions of progressives have now declared the notion of not being offended as an inalienable human right. Controversial speakers are banned from campuses, blah, blah, blah. We all know the drill. Don’t get me wrong, I get offended on occasion, and I don’t enjoy it one bit. I can see the obvious advantages of never being offended, because that goes hand in glove with never having your ideas and beliefs questioned, and what bliss that must be.

The idea that you’ve arrived at a moral and ethical endpoint of perfect exactitude, a perch from which you can serve as arbiter as to what people can and cannot think, let alone say, well, I’ve never tried cocaine, but I’d imagine the high you’d get of that smugness must make coke look like, well, Coke.

I like my racist idiots out in the open, where we can see them for what they are. I think racism, homophobia, and misogyny are terrible things (let’s stand in awed silence for a moment at the sheer moral courage it takes to make a statement like that). In fact, I think those issues are so important that when we decry EVERYTHING we don’t like as an example of some kind of ism, we dull the edges off of these terms. Words and ideas are tools, and you have to use them properly, or they become flattened and useless.

When did some people lose faith in their ideas that no one should be allowed to say something you disagree with? When did a cottage industry of the professionally offended spring up? When did our minds become so brittle and fragile that we have to stamp out ideas because we doubt our ability to beat them outright in the market of ideas? Or, heaven forfend, hear or read something that might make you question your ideas?

Lifelong learners know this takes our world into a dangerous place: when both sides become unquestioning. Because lifelong learners know that learning is more or less inextricable from being challenged, and yes, that will on occasion mean being offended.

I’m NOT talking about giving a free pass to people for their misdeeds. But let’s not assume every bad decision merits throwing the offender overboard. Because, trust me, in this world, you will at some point say something stupid. And even if it isn’t stupid, if you’re saying something of any value, there’s a good chance you will offend someone somewhere. Which should be OK. Actually, more than OK. Necessary.

Now, for the last time, get off of my lawn!

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42 thoughts on “Don’t Be Offended If I Say I Hope You’ll Take Offense

  1. We all in out lives have made a stupid statement that we regretted ever making, and we have all done things that were stupid, and if we were lucky enough to survive them, should be grateful that the internet did not exist. Now everything is out in the open for all to see, laugh at and sent it along for the world to laugh at us. Anyone with any feeling does not like racism, homophobia and woman’s right to be a person. But there are people still stuck in the 50’s to 70’s and can’t see they are being left behind.

    1. Making a benign comment and having someone jump to say they are offended is our world today. One day a person is fun loving and enjoyable and the next they must be quiet almost morose over making a comment on someone’s poor attitude. At some point people need to flex and stop needing attention.

  2. “How could I possibly be offended if I refuse to take offense?” Anthony de Mello- I have preferences of how I might things or people to be. If I refuse to accept people, things , situations , it’s corrosive and toxic to me. All is as it should be. Resistance to what is is the source of my suffering. This is the way I aspire to approach existing today.

    1. There are multiple examples of colleges canceling controversial speakers from speaking on campus because students found the speakers’ views offensive. Students claimed because someone scrawled “Trump 2020” in front of their dorm (I believe it was at Emory) “traumatized them.” I have no use for anything Trump, but if seeing that is “triggering” for you, someone has done you a grave disservice somewhere along the way. Matt Damon decrying sexual harassment but saying an inappropriate comment to a woman is on a very different moral scale than rape and being excoriated on Twitter for it. These are a few off the top of my head

      1. I didn’t see anything about the dorm claim. I’m curious because although I see a great many people complaining about this, the number of actual examples is small, and I don’t believe that if one analyzed it, one would see a significant change. I could be wrong, but to me, it smells a lot like marketing. I don’t see widespread proof.

      2. Thanks. I don’t agree that this piece from 2016 supports the claims propping up everywhere. I’m still pretty convinced it’s marketing.

      3. The collective bandwagon marketing that seems to exist now. An idea is presented, and without much analysis or examination, it spreads nd becomes a viral “truth”. Mistakes are common, errors abound, and the only corrections are small-font pseudo-apologies, filed in the classifieds under “lack of responsibility.”

    2. I think there is tone deafness that sits adjacent to puritanical judgment. So while this isn’t strictly the same idea, I’d argue that the Left’s genius (I’m politically on the Left as well) for shooting themselves in the foot again and again with tone deaf messaging is intertwined with the assumption that all reasonable must agree with them or they are moral monsters. I could have easily named the post “The Death of Nuance,” which until recently has been the purview of the Right.

      For example: I don’t see how any reasonable person can deny that our police departments have massive issues involving systemic racism that need immediate and thorough addressing. But slogans like “Defund/cancel the police” scare the hell out of moderates and play into the Right’s hands in making a cartoon of the Left. Most people want police; polls consistently show that communities of color have very little interest in eliminating the police. What the data shows is that most people want real police REFORM.

      1. Exactly. “Defund the police” is a poor slogan. And, I think some people are definite snowflakes: I often find that travels lockstep with hypocrisy. What I’d like to see and am most likely too lazy to do myself, is an actual study. Because my feeling is that what we’re told and sold these days is often markedly different from practical and provable reality. Although, if you sell an idea for long enough, it does become fact.

        Though I do like “The Death of Nuance.”

      2. I have thought very hard about police reform. The problem inheres to the definition of the job of the police. Police are defined as enforcers. That implies control and dominance on their part and subservience on ours.

        If you’ve noticed, firearms of the police have gotten increasingly deadly over the years. You can’t shoot someone 13 times on pure reflex if you don’t have a very large capacity magazine. And a study in NYPD showed a dramatic decrease in officer-involved shootings just by increasing trigger pull. I am convinced that a fair share of shootings happen because a nervous cop had an involuntary trigger finger twitch or something jogged his hand. Plenty of incidents have shown that once a shot is fired, everyone reflexively empties their weapon, no thought involved.

        The job description is; “Gets to carry a gun and other weapons, gets to order people around, gets to use force if you don’t obey. Gets to subdue and incarcerate people who resist. The ability to intimidate and dominate is a requirement. Member of a brotherhood that holds itself apart from the rest of the community and a union that will rise to your defense no matter what you do. Great benefits for a job that often doesn’t require any higher education.”

        Then police training is paramilitary in nature. More about how to win gunfights and defeat criminals than it is about defusing situations or minimizing harm. The militarization of the police frightens me.

        Is it any wonder that bullies line up for the position? It is only recently that cell phone cameras have been used to show what really goes on during police stops. In the past, the officer’s word was considered absolute. I think it was as much out of convenience for judges as it was a belief in the honesty of officers.

        Bullies, who specifically target the weak, the vulnerable, and the undefended, are natural racists. White police may feel more fear when dealing with people of color. That also makes for racist interactions.

  3. I’m not a big fan of taking offense at much of anything.

    Assuming that being offended is not a good state to be in, why would one want to be there? Taking offense is a voluntary behavior. You’d really have to work hard to offend me, like accusing me of some heinous crime or intentionally damaging my property. A lot of what I could take offense at is, to quote Horatio Hornblower, not worth the powder.

    Why would I take offense at someone challenging my belief system? Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, maybe we’re both wrong, or maybe we’re both right from different perspectives. Regardless, it is an opportunity to discover a new point of view or to correct an error. As soon as someone gets offended, all possibility for growth goes out the window.

    Cancel culture hasn’t got there quite yet but it has the potential to be every bit as oppressive as Joe McCarthy. And there are people who would like it to be.

  4. What a great post! So many points covered! I’ve wondered myself how we have gotten to the point where everything is offensive. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Agree with everything you’ve said, and thanks. For me, at least part of the explanation is that we increasingly live in two worlds – the globalised world we’re subjected to dailty through media, and the atomised personal world most people still inhabit, whether it be only talking to people who share your politics and tastes, or living in a neighbourhood comprised entirely of your co-religionists. It creates cognitive dissonance which many people from different perspectives try to solve by cancellling those whose views and cultures are different. .

  6. Wow Wow Wow! That is old school thought stated perfectly. I have been trying to teach this concept through my blog with hit and miss results. You absolutely nailed it.

  7. I feel like people are easily offended because they are aware of the lingering issues that plague the society, yet they always assume that people who are the subject of offense will always be offended. Like jokes for example. Many people would accuse a particular joke about black as racist, but the blacks themselves think it’s funny and not offensive at all

    Perhaps we are offended because the world is chaotic place and being offended is an act to help to make the world better, in their perspective? Or probably ideal in their mind. They think they do the world a favor because being offended it means some things are not okay…?

  8. Dear Mr. Eastwood,
    ‘A cottage industry for the professionally offended ‘ made me ‘squeeeee!!’ Best summary ever of a ridiculous and offensive situation. There is also the added bonus of making me go on a ‘Pearl’ binge, singing loud and proud and extremely off-key, neighbors be damned. If they needed those boots, they wouldn’t have thrown them over the fence at me, hmmph.
    I live in a town that is the personification of all these ‘isms’, and all this Woke nonsense. Every day I consider where I might move that is more moderate and functional, and I can’t think of a single place. Any ideas?
    Nice rant, by the way! Totally hear you.

    1. All this “taking offense” wouldn’t be possible without some kind of reward system in place. There’s genuinely offended for cause – and then there is theater. In theater the reward is the applause of the audience. Celebrities in particular are prone to theater but ordinary people can get in on the fun too.

  9. Jack! Yes. My husband and I have this conversation literally almost everyday. As a society, we have to learn (remember?) that conversation can be messy, but the point of it is to become better connected. If no one’s allowed to ever be uncomfortable, aren’t we just stagnating? 🕊

  10. Questioning is how we learn. We must ask questions and be ready to admit when we are wrong or there is a better way. Sometimes we might even be able to build a connection where at first there was profound disagreement!

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